In 2017, Human Activities and the plantation workers’ art league Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC) celebrated the Repatriation of the White Cube. A quintessential White Cube, designed by OMA, was built and inaugurated on a former Unilever palm oil plantation in Lusanga, DR Congo. With the establishment of the White Cube, the mechanisms through which plantations underwrite the art world are reversed. The white cube attracts the capital and visibility needed to invent a new ecological and economic model on site: the post-plantation. With the repatriation of the White Cube, Human Activities and CATPC aim to bring back the privileges associated with the art world to one of the plantations that has historically funded the establishment of western museums.
The collaboration has set a new precedent: plantation workers successfully employ the concept of the ‘white cube’ to acquire the visibility and capital needed to buy back their land from international corporations.
With partner organization CATPC, Human Activities continues to develop its mission, to make sure that artistic critique on economic inequality can effectively reverse that inequality.
– Holland Cotter, The New York Times
CATPC was formed in 2014 together with renowned environmental activist René Ngongo, the founder of Greenpeace Congo. CATPC members make sculptures from river mud; the sculptures are 3D scanned and then reproduced in cocoa and palm oil in Amsterdam (the world’s largest cocoa port) before being exhibited at top galleries and museums worldwide. With the income generated from the sales of their art the workers are able to buy back the land that had been confiscated and taken from them by Unilever. So far they have bought 85 hectares of land, which they are transforming back into rich and diverse, ecological and egalitarian gardens: the post-plantation.
Early success came in 2017 with their first solo exhibition in New York’s SculptureCenter, an exhibition that was hailed by the New York Times as the ‘best art of the year’. The same year CATPC inaugurated their own white cube: an OMA/ David Gianotten designed museum, built on their newly purchased land, which functions to bring capital, visibility and legitimacy to Lusanga.
Now in 2020, the film White Cube marks a new beginning: how the concept of the white cube – with all the privileges it stands for — can be repurposed by plantation workers as a vehicle to buy back their land and begin a new inclusive and egalitarian world. As CATPC member Mathieu Kasiama said: “We must not stay in one place. We must spread out. We must take back all four corners of The Congo.”